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The Hindu
The Hindu
Lakshmi V. Venkatesan

The King and India

Queen Elizabeth II, the much-loved monarch of the U.K., passed away on September 8. Her son has succeeded her as King Charles III, amid a lot of hope and interest about how he is going to fill the Queen’s enormous shoes, especially at a time of great political uncertainty, climate change and other global challenges.

One has only to examine Charles’s long and dedicated public service record — from caring for the underprivileged to protecting the environment and preservation of historical architecture — to know that not only will he do his utmost to emulate and equal the Queen’s extraordinary service record but will also put his own unique stamp on it. Nowhere has this been more evident, to me, than in his desire to engage with India.

I have had the honour and privilege of witnessing the King’s love for our country since 1990, when I started working closely with him to transform disadvantaged youth. My father, the former President R. Venkataraman, was invited to stay at the Buckingham Palace in April 1990, during his state visit to the U.K. I accompanied my parents on this visit and not only experienced the Queen’s enormous personal warmth first hand but also had the rare chance to learn about the then Prince Charles’ remarkable programme, the Prince’s Trust.

Over the three days we stayed at the palace, Prince Charles shared, with utmost earnestness, the detailed process of how he was helping jobless youth become self-employed during the 1980s. Unemployment was at a record high in the U.K. under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher then. This programme was ahead of its times, when entrepreneurship was not the ubiquitous buzzword as it is today. Moreover, he talked about creating grassroots entrepreneurship to help young people from impoverished parts of the cities in England and rural Scotland and Wales — a concept which was positively foreign at the time. He had earned the gratitude of a lot of young people who saw his programme as an excellent example of how the Prince put his heart and soul in serving society.

I was especially captivated when he told me at one of the luncheons we had shared three decades ago about Mohamed Dattoo, a British immigrant of Indian origin from a very humble background who had started and rapidly scaled up his start-up and had the caught the eye of royalty. He had enquired with his infectious enthusiasm whether a similar model could help underprivileged and rural youth in India to start businesses. I had promised to explore it further.

Soon after, I set up the Bharatiya Yuva Shakti Trust (BYST) with the mentorship and guidance of Prince Charles alongside Indian industry stalwarts like J.R.D. Tata and Rahul Bajaj. When the Prince visited India in February 1992 and stayed at the Rashtrapati Bhavan on my father’s request, he skipped a tour of the Taj Mahal to inaugurate the BYST and spend time with our entrepreneurs and their mentors.

An interesting, related anecdote was when Prince Philip visited the BYST in October 1997 when he had accompanied the Queen during her visit to Chennai. Seeing the happy enthusiastic Tamil entrepreneurs, the Duke of Edinburgh remarked that he was glad his son was doing good in the world. Prince Charles was indeed happy to be acknowledged by his father as any son would.

Thereafter, over the past 30 years, Prince Charles has been continuously involved and deeply interested in the BYST and has cared enough to visit us periodically every few years, in Delhi, Chandigarh and Pune, wherever the programme was being set up. His presence at the BYST’s 25th anniversary in 2017 was a moment of great joy and pride for us and a moment of deep satisfaction for him. He further used the Indian successful programme emulating the Prince’s Trust to inspire and galvanise countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America making it into a successful worldwide movement for grassroots entrepreneurship.

Beyond his involvement with the BYST, he has continued to engage deeply with India up until now — as exemplified by his efforts to bring Indian business leaders together to support the cause of farmers through his British Asian Trust and his encouragement of practitioners of Indian traditional medicine in both India and the U.K.

We got a glimpse of this passion for his charities when King Charles III addressed the U.K. and the world at large, when he spoke with great fondness of the many causes he has devoted himself to his entire life. Indeed, Prince Charles has not been waiting in the wings till he turned 73 to become King. He has used his time, energy, and resources to move the needle forward for humanity, including the country that he is immensely attached to, India.

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